For Bea Postma, the diagnosis came as a surprise.
It was late October 2020 when Postma, who uses she/they pronouns, was sitting in their car waiting to pick up their classmate. They were both headed to Windsor’s St. Clair College where they studied musical theatre performance.
While waiting, Postma answered a phone call from their psychiatrist.
By the time Postma’s classmate joined them in the car, they were in tears. Their psychiatrist had just diagnosed them with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
Concerned, Postma’s classmate asked if they would still be attending school that day. Postma insisted on attending regardless.
What is DID?
According to the Mayo Clinic, dissociative disorders are “mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity.” DID is specifically characterized “by ‘switching’ to alternate identities.”
Toronto-based registered psychotherapist Victoria Donahue said DID is usually a result of childhood trauma.
“The research shows that it’s a combination of environmental and biological factors,” she said. “I read recently that it’s never just something that someone is born with, and it usually comes when there’s a disruption in a child’s psychological development.”
She added, “This disruption is being caused by trauma that prevents the normal processing of consolidating a cohesive and core sense of self. That’s when that fragmentation can come in.”
Donahue said this trauma can be the result of a myriad of abuse. This includes severe neglect, emotional abuse, physical and sexual abuse.
“DID is a result of trauma. These symptoms that come up were once super adaptive; it’s what kept that individual safe,” said Donahue. “If it wasn’t for this fragmentation, the trauma [and] their experiences would just be so overwhelming and would really be impossible for them to continue living everyday life.”
“There is a spectrum of dissociation, and DID is just one of the most severe forms of it. And that just goes to show the trauma that they’ve had to protect [themselves] from,” she said.
Postma said their diagnosis “was a big shock, but it also wasn’t at the same time.”
“I definitely shed a lot of tears because nobody prepares you — nothing can prepare you — for the moment where you have to find out that it’s not just you in your body.”
Postma didn’t know much about DID at the time. After speaking with their therapist and doing research of their own, they recognized the symptoms.
Still, they were extremely hesitant to accept the diagnosis.
“It’s so ingrained in everyone’s brains, even today, that DID is for crazy people, and if you have DID, you’re going to murder people, you’re going to kill people,” they said. “And that’s just not the case. I mean, I haven’t murdered or kidnapped anyone.”
Postma added they had already spent so much of their life working through other mental illnesses and trying to break down the stigma surrounding them.
They were previously diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and anxiety. They used TikTok and other social media channels as a way to discuss and destigmatize mental illness.
Meeting the alters
Initially, Postma was hesitant to share her DID diagnosis online. However, after a breakup with their partner, they said they were “sick of hiding.”
“I didn’t want to be ashamed or have people thinking that I was ashamed of it,” they said.
Postma shared their diagnosis on TikTok in March 2021 when they created a short video introducing The Lavender System.
This is what they call their collection of eight alternate personalities, or “alters.” Each alter has a different physicality, set of mannerisms and serves a function in the system.
The video now has over six million views.
In the video, Postma tells the audience that they are the host of The Lavender System. This means that they “front” or control the body most often.
“Just because I am the host, it doesn’t mean I am the original,” Postma explained. “There is no original. It’s like if you were to take a bowl and drop it on the ground and it shatters into a million pieces, which one is the original piece? They’re all a part of the same thing.”
The first alter to appear in The Lavender System was Jamie, who Postma describes as a “very traditional dude.” Jamie is a 19-year-old male and the primary protector of the system. This means he often deals with stressful situations and conflict.
According to Postma, Jamie often experiences intense gender dysphoria as a male residing in a female-presenting body. He will usually choose to wear hoodies tied up around his head, claiming he is “all hoodie, no gender.”
Next is Rosa, a 26-year-old female and system caretaker. “She makes sure we’re eating, taking care of ourselves, keeping our area clean and staying on top of things,” said Postma. “She is definitely the most organized of all of us.”
Another alter, Bella, is the emotional protector and the integration of two prior existing alters.
“The two alters’ names were Sarah and Mia, and both of them were struggling in their own ways, and integration made it for them to work better together,” Postma said.
“If we’re dealing with really bad depression or anxiety that day, Bella knows and is best with self-soothing techniques.”
Vega, who also frequently posts on The Lavender System TikTok, is the system’s sexual protector. She is 24 years old and “loves all things glamorous.”
“Often, sexual protectors develop due to sexual trauma, and that is partially why she was split off in the system,” said Postma. “She basically is the best equipped to deal with any sexual trauma of any sort.”
Sometimes alters can change roles in a system, like Kai. Kai was formerly a trauma holder but is now the system’s gatekeeper.
“Kai has access to all the memories,” Postma said. “If you think of it like a filing unit — this memory goes to this person, and this memory goes to this person — Kai can pick and choose who knows what memory.”
Postma themself is not aware of all of the trauma the system has experienced in life.
The Lavender System also has an internal caretaker, Nick. Nick helps control and care for the “headspace” or emotional well-being of the system.
If Postma is fronting and has a panic attack, Nick will often come forward and assist Postma in remembering coping and grounding techniques.
Finally, the most recent alter in the system is Jaz, an ageless, non-verbal trauma-holder. Jaz uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.
Postma said they do not know ASL themself.
Support and blowback
The “Meet the System” TikTok was first met with support and praise, though not all of the feedback was kind.
“I thought maybe 300 people would see it but as it kept getting bigger and bigger and the numbers kept rising — and as I was freaking out — there were so many people [who] started following and leaving really supportive comments,” said Postma.
“There were, of course, also some negative things too, like ‘This is so fake,’ or ‘DID isn’t real,’ or ‘Isn’t this what murderers have?’”
A follower even shared a subreddit with Postma where many were leaving cruel comments about them and their diagnosis. Some even went so far as to comment on their physical appearance.
Despite this, Postma kept the video up.
“I don’t need to prove my diagnosis to you, for you, a random person on the internet, to validate me,” they explained. “I know my diagnosis, my psychiatrist knows my diagnosis, my therapist knows my diagnosis, and really, that’s all that matters.”
Postma said they kept the video online because they didn’t want to feel ashamed. Instead, they wanted to make DID visible, and host an open, honest conversation about a complex mental illness.
“I don’t want to feel ashamed of who I am,” they explained. “And I guess also to show that at the end of the day, these people [who] are trying to cause more trauma for us — and me specifically — they don’t have that power over me.”
TikTok has also allowed Postma to connect with other systems and individuals with DID.
“When I first found out about [DID], it was hush hush, and very ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” they said.
“Now there’s a big group of people [who] are actively trying to break down that system, the system of stigma and anger and resentment towards those with DID that Hollywood has kind of created. It’s a pretty loving community as well.”
Postma says they will continue to share their diagnosis and experiences online to educate the uninformed and eliminate harmful stigma and stereotypes about people with complex mental illnesses.
“If there was no TikTok talk, I would have just been sitting at home and being like, ‘I’m the only one in the universe who has this,’ but you can see now there are so many other systems in this world, and it’s not just me,” they said.
“We shouldn’t be afraid of existing as we are.”